Politicians on both sides part ways over abortion bill
The Age (Australia)
MAJOR divisions have emerged in the Brumby Government and the Opposition over whether landmark legislation to make abortion legal in Victoria would increase the number of pregnancies terminated.
Sports Minister James Merlino has spoken out against the bill to decriminalise abortion, saying he would "oppose moves to allow a greater number of abortions".
His views are in conflict with Premier John Brumby, who has argued there is no evidence to suggest that passage of the bill would result in more abortions.
Coalition leader Ted Baillieu said he did not believe the legislation would increase the number of abortions.
But his Coalition partner and National's leader Peter Ryan said it was logical that if the perceived punitive aspects of abortion up to 24 weeks were removed, the number of terminations might increase.
Mr Ryan said he opposed the bill as a matter of principle. "There is no question abortion is a matter deeply bound up with women's health, but the first issue is a question of dignity of life," he said.
MPs will have a conscience vote on the bill, which, if passed, would remove abortion from the Crimes Act.
Under the legislation, introduced in Parliament this week, women would be able to choose to have an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Late-term abortions would be allowed if two doctors believe the termination to be appropriate on medical grounds and with regard to the woman's physical, psychological and social cir-cumstances.
A report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which forms the basis of the legislation, found there was no correspondence between the rate of abortion and legislation.
Women's Affairs Minister Maxine Morand also said yesterday that there was no link between the abortion rate and the restrictiveness of abortion laws.
"The rate of unwanted pregnancy is . . . relative to access to contraception," she told 3AW.
Ms Morand, who is sponsoring the bill, acknowledged there could be more hospitals offering abortions under the legislation.
The Premier, Ms Morand and Health Minister Daniel Andrews have all said the proposed law would reflect current clinical practice on abortion and take away the threat of prosecution for women and medical professionals.
But shadow attorney-general Robert Clark said there was a very substantial risk that the bill would increase the number of terminations.
"The legislation greatly increases the scope for abortions and sets standards that are much less restrictive than current practice," he said.
About 20,000 abortions are performed in Victoria each year under the protection of a 1969 Supreme Court ruling.
Former Bracks government minister and anti-abortionist Christine Campbell said the legislation would require less medical consultation for abortions than current requirements, increasing terminations.
Ms Campbell called a meeting of MPs from all parties last night to push for amendments to the bill, including: mandatory counselling for women deciding to have an abortion; no career disadvantage for medical professionals who object to performing or assisting with abortions; and a requirement that those performing abortions have obstetric or gynaecological training.